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Farming heritage on full display at Draft Horse Field Days

Threshing demonstration shows labour-intensive harvest system used before modern high capacity combines came along.

RAMA - After an alarming stretch of cool, wet weather earlier in the week, the PALS (Performing Arts and Leisure Society) Draft Horse Field Days took place under near perfect harvest weather in Rama on the weekend of Aug. 26-27.

Around mid-week, organizers were unsure whether to hold the event at all, according to Nancy Genoway, one of the volunteer organizers.

“The weather turned out to be beautiful both days,” said Genoway. “Earlier in the week we were very concerned because of the rain, but I think the final decision was made on Friday morning that we would go ahead with it.

“Attendance was very good both days, especially considering that there were other events going on in the surrounding area.”

Genoway said they were pleased with the turnout of 11 teams of horses, which made one of the highlights of the weekend possible; a discing demonstration with a six-horse hitch.

“All in all, thanks to the teamsters, the spectators and our volunteers. The weekend was definitely a success, even with a few glitches with the binder and threshing machine.”

Ron Mocyk, another of the volunteer organizers, emphasized the important of hosting the Draft Horse Field Days regularly.

“We do this because it shows the younger generation how this country was opened up and built, we need them to see this,” said Mocyk. “The odd young person comes out each year and they're just amazed with the horses and how the threshing is done.”

Teamsters who took part in either one, or both days included: Pat Uzelman of Unity (one team of Clydesdales), Duncan Arthur of Preeceville (one Percheron horse, and two Friesian/Haflinger-cross horses), Keith Neumeir of Langenburg (one team of white Percherons and one team of blue roan Percherons), Ron Turner of Archerwill (one team of Percherons), Lloyd Smith and Shanna Lippert of Pelly (two teams of black Percherons), Cameron Last of Lintlaw (one team of Clydesdales), Kristina and Jillian Just of Yorkton (one team of Clydesdales), Morgan Wallington of Pelly (one team of Percherons) and Ed Livingstone of Caron (one team of Canadian horses). Livingstone was also the guest speaker for Cowboy Church on Sunday.

Pat Uzelman made the long drive to Rama from Unity, about 500 km, to take part in the event. Uzelman had been to Rama for the first time at the spring seeding event, and finds the long trip to be well worthwhile.

“I enjoy the horse-related activities and also the people. It's good to get together with like-minded people who enjoy working with horses.”

Uzelman raked some hay, with his team of Clydesdales providing the pulling power. He said he enjoys putting on field demonstrations with his horses as a way of educating the public.

"I volunteer at several museums and do farming and threshing demonstrations,” said Uzelman. “We get quite a few school tours and the kids really seem to enjoy it. I like answering their questions. And then we also get a lot of seniors visiting, and it usually brings back many fond memories for them.”

Keith Neumeir of Langenburg has made numerous visits to the Draft Horse Field Days, and this time brought two teams of Percherons; one white and one blue roan team.

“I enjoy playing with horses,” said Neumeir. “It's like stepping back in time about 100 years into the past. And the people here are great, very friendly."

Neumeir hooked up his blue roan team to the dump rake when organizers asked him to move around some hay and make room for the threshing display, even though that wasn’t exactly what dump rakes were originally made for.

Neumeir said he keeps his horses active and in shape during the winter months by hauling bales on his farm and also giving sleigh rides.

There were numerous entries in the log skidding event, where teamsters had the opportunity to test their driving skills by guiding their horses around a row of strategically placed overturned pails, and then attempting to stop on the target area set out by judges to earn a time bonus.

Kristina Just of Yorkton, one of the competitors, said the competition was a welcome challenge for her and her team of Clydesdales.

Keith Neumeir of Langenburg entered both his Percheron teams, and won first and second place.

Third place went to Shanna Lippert of Pelly and her Percherons. Ed Livingston of Canora earned fourth place with his Canadian team, and Lloyd Smith of Pelly and his Percheron team came in fifth.

For most of those in attendance, the highlight of the weekend was the harvest-related demonstrations.

Lloyd Smith of Pelly ran the seven-foot John Deere binder from the PALS farm machinery collection in a good-looking crop of oats with his team of four black Percherons.

Unlike the one-pass operation of modern harvest equipment, the binder cuts the grain and ties it into bundles. The bundles are then manually arranged in stooks for driving. But during the demonstration, Smith had some trouble with the binder and volunteers had to do some tinkering. It tended to tie a few bundles, then miss a few, then tie a few more bundles, and so on.

The threshing demonstration was also held with farm equipment from the PALS collection, a McCormick Deering threshing machine with a 28 inch cylinder from the 1940s, driven by a 1950s-vintage Massey Harris 44 tractor.

Ron Mocyk said they had to do quite a bit of work on the threshing machine to get it into running order.

“It was a major overhaul,” said Mocyk. “We pulled out the straw walker and rebuilt it. We fixed the feeder chain and had to replace the Babbitt bushings, which have lead in them. They used to be poured in a forge but you can't buy them any more so we had to make them.”

The Massey Harris 44 still has the original engine and “was in pretty good shape when we got it.”

As is often the case with threshing grain, even in the old days, everyone had to have some patience before volunteers could get everything working as it should. The threshing machine had some trouble with a loose belt, as well as the augering system for the grain.

For those used to high capacity modern combines, seeing a threshing demonstration for the first time can be like stepping into a whole different world. A large late model combine might harvest up to 200 acres in a day, while a horse-drawn binder could maybe cover as much as 10 acres per day, plus the crop later had to be threshed with a threshing machine.

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